“Natural” Food Labeling – what does it really mean?

If you missed my interview on Fox 5 this week [click to view], here is a little summary of what’s going on in the food world lately.  Consumer reports tested a variety of packaged foods, from cereals to infant formulas, with “Natural” food labels and found that many contained 1 or more, unnatural, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). GMOs are foods that have been genetically altered, or their DNA has been changed, for better sustainability and to withstand damage from herbicides. The most common GMOs in our food supply to date are corn and soy.

After the study by Consumer Affairs was released, the debate falls on these ambiguous “Natural” food labels and how deceiving and misleading they are to consumers, especially those who believe that GMOs are harmful and dangerous for consumption. The truth is that the long-term effects of consuming GMO foods are still unknown because they are relatively new to the marketplace. Even though some health care experts believe GMOs are responsible for nutritional deficiencies, toxicity, and even obesity, little research has been done to prove the validity of these theories.

In the mean time, if you are concerned about what exactly you’re getting in a food product labeled “Natural” follow these tips:

1) Always check the ingredient list on the back and don’t just rely on the front of food packages. Companies are notorious for using specific marketing techniques to make food packages appeal to consumers and thus, drive up sales. If an ingredient list has more than 3-4 things or contains a word that a 5 year old can’t pronounce, chances are, it’s not doing anything positive to your health.

2) To avoid GMO ingredients, look for a “No GMO” or “GMO-free” food label. Even though this label still allows 0.9% GMO it is a lot more reliable than a “Natural” label.

3) The FDA has not been able to properly define “Natural” food labeling and for that reason, it often appears on processed foods as well. The best way to avoid eating unnatural food ingredients is to avoid eating too many packaged foods in general such as chips, cereals, snack bars, frozen meals, canned products, etc.  Try to make meals and snacks from scratch using singular ingredients such as raw fruits and veggies, dried seasonings, raw meats, raw oats, etc.

4) At this point, all we know is that a “Natural” food label means there are no artificial sweeteners, chemicals, coloring, or dyes.

Nick VanMeter